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IV IDEAL GENESIS AND DISSOLUTION OF THE 'PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY'
I

The conception of the so-called 'philosophy of history' is perpetually opposed to and resisted by the deterministic conception of history. Not only is this clearly to be seen from inspection, but it is also quite evident logically, because the 'philosophy of history' represents the transcendental conception of the real, determinism the immanent.

But on examining the facts it is not less certain that historical determinism perpetually generates the 'philosophy of history'; nor is this fact less evidently logical than the preceding, because determinism is naturalism, and therefore immanent, certainly, but insufficiently and falsely immanent. Hence it should rather be said that it wishes to be, but is not, immanent, and whatever its efforts may be in the contrary direction, it becomes converted into transcendency. All this does not present any difficulty to one who has clearly in mind the conceptions of the transcendent and of the immanent, of the philosophy of history as transcendency and of the deterministic or naturalistic conception of history as a false immanence. But it will be of use to see in more detail how this process of agreements and oppositions is developed and solved with reference to the problem of history.

"First collect the facts, then connect them causally"; this is the way that the work of the historian is[Pg 65] represented in the deterministic conception. Après la collection des faits, la recherche des causes, to repeat the very common formula in the very words of one of the most eloquent and picturesque theorists of that school, Taine. Facts are brute, dense, real indeed, but not illumined with the light of science, not intellectualized. This intelligible character must be conferred upon them by means of the search for causes. But it is very well known what happens when one fact is linked to another as its cause, forming a chain of causes and effects: we thus inaugurate an infinite regression, and we never succeed in finding the cause or causes to which we can finally attach the chain that we have been so industriously putting together.

Some, maybe many, of the theorists of history get out of the difficulty in a truly simple manner: they break or let fall at a certain point their chain, which is already broken at another point at the other end (the effect which they have undertaken to consider). They operate with their fragment of chain as though it were something perfect and closed in itself, as though a straight line divided at two points should include space and be a figure. Hence, too, the doctrine that we find among the methodologists of history: that it is only necessary for history to seek out 'proximate' causes. This doctrine is intended to supply a logical foundation to the above process. But who can ever say what are the 'proximate causes'? Thought, since it is admitted that it is unfortunately obliged to think according to the chain of causes, will never wish to know anything but 'true' causes, be they near or distant in space and time (space, like time, ne fait rien à l'affaire). In reality, this theory is a fig-leaf, placed there to cover a proceeding of which the historian, who is a thinker and a critic, is ashamed,[Pg 66] an act of will which is useful, but which for that very reason is wilful. The fig-leaf, however, is a sign of modesty, and as such has its value, because, if shame be lost, there is a risk that it will finally be declared that the 'causes' at which an arbitrary halt has been made are the 'ultimate' causes, the 'true' causes, thus raising the caprice of the individual to the rank of an act creative of the world, treating it as though it were God, the God of certain theologians, whose caprice is truth. I should not wish again to quote Taine just after having said this, for he is a most estimable author, not on account of his mental constitution, but of his enthusiastic faith in science; yet it suits me to quote him nevertheless. Taine, in his search for causes, having reached a cause which he sometimes calls the 'race' and sometimes the 'age,' as for instance in his history of English literature, when he reaches the concept of the 'man of the North' or 'German,' with the character and intellect that would be suitable to such a person—coldness of the senses, love of abstract ideas, grossness of taste, and contempt for order and regularity—gravely affirms: Là s'arrête la recherche: on est tombé sur quelque disposition primitive, sur quelque trait propre à toutes les sensations, à toutes les conceptions d'un siècle ou d'une race, sur quelque particularité inséparable de toutes les démarches de son esprit et de son cour. Ce sont là les grandes causes, les causes universelles et permanentes. What that primitive and insurmountable thing contained was known to Taine's imagination, but criticism is ignorant of it; for criticism demands that the genesis of the facts or groups of facts designated as 'age' and 'race' should be given, and in demanding their genesis declares that they are neither 'universal' nor 'permanent,' because no universal and permanent 'facts' are known, as far[Pg 67] as I am aware, certainly not le Germain and l'homme du Nord; nor are mummies facts, though they last some thousands of years, but not for ever—they change gradually, but they do change.

Thus whoever adopts the deterministic conception of history, provided that he decides to abstain from cutting short the inquiry that he has undertaken in an arbitrary and fanciful manner, is of necessity obliged to recognize that the method adopted does not attain the desired end. And since he has begun to think history, although by means of an insufficient method, no course remains to him save that of beginning all over again and following a different path, or that of going forward but changing his direction. The naturalistic presupposition, which still holds its ground ("first collect the facts, then seek the causes": what is more evident and more unavoidable than that?), necessarily leads to the second alternative. But to adopt the second alternative is to supersede determinism, it is to transcend nature and its causes, it is to propose a method opposite to that hitherto followed—that is to say, to renounce the category of cause for another, which cannot be anything but that of end, an extrinsic and transcendental end, which is the analogous opposite, corresponding to the cause. Now the search for the transcendental end is the 'philosophy of history.'

The consequent naturalist (I mean by this he who 'continues to think,' or, as is generally said, to draw the consequences) cannot avoid this inquiry, nor does he ever avoid it, in whatever manner he conceive his new inquiry. This he cannot even do, when he tries, by declaring that the end or 'ultimate cause' is unknowable, because (as elsewhere remarked) an unknowable affirmed is an unknowable in some way known. Naturalism is[Pg 68] always crowned with a philosophy of history, whatever its mode of formulation: whether it explain the universe as composed of atoms that strike one another and produce history by means of their various shocks and gyrations, to which they can also put an end by returning to their primitive state of dispersion, whether the hidden God be termed Matter or the Unconscious or something else, or whether, finally, He be conceived as an Intelligence which avails itself of the chain of causes in order to actualize His counsels. And every philosopher of history is on the other hand a naturalist, because he is a dualist and conceives a God and a world, an idea and a fact in addition to or beneath the Idea, a kingdom of ends and a kingdom or sub-kingdom of causes, a celestial city and one that is more or less diabolical or terrene. Take any deterministic historical work and you will find or discover in it, explicit or understood, transcendency (in Taine, for example, it goes by the name of 'race' or of 'siècle,' which are true and proper deities); take any work of 'philosophy of history' and dualism and naturalism will be found there (in Hegel, for example, when he admits rebellious and impotent facts which resist or are unworthy the dominion of the idea). And we shall see more and more clearly how from the entrails of naturalism comes inevitably forth the 'philosophy of history.'
II

But the 'philosophy of history' is just as contradictory as the deterministic conception from which it arises and to which it is opposed. Having both accepted and superseded the method of linking brute facts together, it no longer finds facts to link (for these have[Pg 69] already been linked together, as well as might be, by means of the category of cause), but brute facts, on which it must confer rather a 'meaning' than a linking, representing them as aspects of a transcendental process, a theophany. Now those facts, in so far as they are brute facts, are mute, and the transcendency of the process requires an organ, not that of thought that thinks or produces facts, but an extra-logical organ, in order to be conceived and represented (such, for example, as thought which proceeds abstractly a priori, in the manner of Fichte), and this is not to be found in the spirit, save as a negative moment, as the void of effective logical thought. The void of logical thought is immediately filled with praxis, or what is called sentiment, which then appears as poetry, by theoretical refraction. There is an evident poetical character running through all 'philosophies of history.' Those of antiquity represented historical events as strife between the gods of certain peoples or of certain races or protectors of certain individuals, or between the god of light and truth and the powers of darkness and lies. They thus expressed the aspirations of peoples, groups, or individuals toward hegemony, or of man toward goodness and truth. The most modern of modern forms is that inspired by various national and ethical feelings (the Italian, the Germanic, the Slav, etc.), or which represents the course of history as leading to the kingdom of liberty, or as the passage from the Eden of primitive communism, through the Middle Ages of slavery, servitude, and wages, toward the restoration of communism, which shall no longer be unconscious but conscious, no longer Edenic but human. In poetry, facts are no longer facts but words, not reality but images, and so there would be no occasion to censure them, if it remained pure poetry.[Pg 70] But it does not so remain, because those images and words are placed there as ideas and facts—that is to say, as myths: progress, liberty, economy, technique, science are myths, in so far as they are looked upon as agents external to the facts. They are myths no less than God and the Devil, Mars and Venus, Jove and Baal, or any other cruder forms of divinity. And this is the reason why the deterministic conception, after it has produced the 'philosophy of history,' which opposes it, is obliged to oppose its own daughter in its turn, and to appeal from the realm of ends to that of causal connexions, from imagination to observation, from myths to facts.

The reciprocal confutation of historical determinism and the philosophy of history, which makes of each a void or a nothing—that is to say, a single void or nothing—seems to the eclectics as usual to be the reciprocal fulfilment of two entities, which effect or should effect an alliance for mutual support. And since eclecticism flourishes in contemporary philosophy, mutato nomine, it is not surprising that besides the duty of investigating the causes to history also is assigned that of ascertaining the 'meaning' or the 'general plan' of the course of history (see the works on the philosophy of history of Labriola, Simmel, and Rickert). Since, too, writers on method are wont to be empirical and therefore eclectic, we find that with them also history is divided into the history which unites and criticizes documents and reconstructs events, and 'philosophy of history' (see Bernheim's manual, typical of all of them). Finally, since ordinary thought is eclectic, nothing is more easy than to find agreement as to the thesis that simple history, which presents the series of facts, does not suffice, but that it is necessary that thought should return to the[Pg 71] already constituted chain of events, in order to discover there the hidden design and to answer the questions as to whence we come and whither we go. This amounts to saying that a 'philosophy of history' must be posited side by side with history. This eclecticism, which gives substance to two opposite voids and makes them join hands, sometimes attempts to surpass itself and to mingle those two fallacious sciences or parts of science. Then we hear 'philosophy of history' defended, but with the caution that it must be conducted with 'scientific' and 'positive' method, by means of the search for the cause, thus revealing the action of divine reason or providence.[1] Ordinary thought quickly consents to this programme, but afterward fails to carry it out.[2]

There is nothing new here either for those who know: 'philosophy of history' to be constructed by means of 'positive methods,' transcendency to be demonstrated by means of the methods of false immanence, is the exact equivalent in the field of historical studies to that "metaphysic to be constructed by means of the experimental method" which was recommended by the neocritics (Zeller and others), for it claimed, not indeed to supersede two voids that reciprocally confute one another,[Pg 72] but to make them agree together, and, after having given substance to them, to combine them in a single substance. I should not like to describe the impossibilities contained in the above as the prodigies of an alchemist (the metaphor seems to be too lofty), but rather as the medleys of bad cooks.

[1] See, for example, the work of Flint; but since, less radical than Flint, Hegel and the Hegelians themselves also ended in admitting the concourse of the two opposed methods, traces of this perversion are also to be found in their 'philosophies of history.' Here, too, is to be noted the false analogy by which Hegel was led to discover the same relation between a priori and historical facts as between mathematics and natural facts: Man muss mit dem Kreise dessen, worin die Prinzipien fallen, wenn man es so nennen will, a priori vertraut sein, so gut als Kepler mit den Ellipsen, mit Kuben und Quadraten und mit den Gedanken von Verh?ltnissen derselben a priori schon vorher bekannt sein musste, ehe er aus den empirischen Daten seine unsterblichen Gesetze, welche aus Bestimmungen jener Kreise von Vorstellungen bestehen, erfinden konnte. (Cf. Vorles. üb. d. Philos, d. Gesch., ed. Brunst?d, pp. 107-108.)

[2] Not even the above-mentioned Flint carried it out, for he lost him-self in preliminaries of historical documentation and never proceeded to the promised construction.
III

The true remedy for the contradictions of historical determinism and of the 'philosophy of history' is quite other than this. To obtain it, we must accept the result of the preceding confutation, which shows that both are futile, and reject, as lacking thought, both the 'designs' of the philosophy of history and the causal chains of determinism. When these two shadows have been dispersed we shall find ourselves at the starting-place: we are again face to face with disconnected brute facts, with facts that are connected, but not understood, for which determinism had tried to employ the cement of causality, the 'philosophy of history,' the magic wand of finality. What shall we do with these facts? How shall we make them clear rather than dense as they were, organic rather than inorganic, intelligible rather than unintelligible? Truly, it seems difficult to do anything with them, especially to effect their desired transformation. The spirit is helpless before that which is, or is supposed to be, external to it. And when facts are understood in that way we are apt to assume again that attitude of contempt of the philosophers for history which has been well-nigh constant since antiquity almost to the end of the eighteenth century (for Aristotle history was "less philosophical" and less serious than poetry,[Pg 73] for Sextus Empiricus it was "unmethodical material"; Kant did not feel or understand history). The attitude amounts to this: leave ideas to the philosophers and brute facts to the historians—let us be satisfied with serious things and leave their toys to the children.

But before having recourse to such a temptation, it will be prudent to ask counsel of methodical doubt (which is always most useful), and to direct the attention precisely upon those brute and disconnected facts from which the causal method claims to start and before which we, who are now abandoned by it and by its complement, the philosophy of history, appear to find ourselves again. Methodical doubt will suggest above all things the thought that those facts are a presupposition that has not been proved, and it will lead to the inquiry as to whether the proof can be obtained. Having attempted the proof, we shall finally arrive at the conclusion that those facts really do not exist.

For who, as a matter of fact, affirms their existence? Precisely the spirit, at the moment when it is about to undertake the search for causes. But when accomplishing that act the spirit does not already possess the brute facts (d'abord la collection des faits) and then seek the causes (après, la recherche des causes); but it makes the facts brute by that very act—that is to say, it posits them itself in that way, because it is of use to it so to posit them. The search for causes, undertaken by history, is not in any way different from the procedure of naturalism, already several times illustrated, which abstractly analyses and classifies reality. And to illustrate abstractly and to classify implies at the same time to judge in classifying—that is to say, to treat facts, not as acts of the spirit, conscious in the spirit that thinks them, but as external brute facts. The Divine Comedy[Pg 74] is that poem which we create again in our imagination in all its particulars as we read it and which we understand critically as a particular determination of the spirit, and to which we therefore assign its place in history, with all its surroundings and all its relations. But when this actuality of our thought and imagination has come to an end—that is to say, when that mental process is completed—we are able, by means of a new act of the spirit, separately to analyse its elements. Thus, for instance, we shall classify the concepts relating to 'Florentine civilization,' or to 'political poetry,' and say that the Divine Comedy was an effect of Florentine civilization, and this in its turn an effect of the strife of the communes, and the like. We shall also thus have prepared the way for those absurd problems which used to annoy de Sanctis so much in relation to the work of Dante, and which he admirably described when he said that they arise only when lively ?sthetic expression has grown cold and poetical work has fallen into the hands of dullards addicted to trifles. But if we stop in time and do not enter the path of those absurdities, if we restrict ourselves purely and simply to the naturalistic moment, to classification, and to the classificatory judgment (which is also causal connexion), in an altogether practical manner, without drawing any deductions from it, we shall have done nothing that is not perfectly legitimate; indeed, we shall be exercising our right and bowing to a rational necessity, which is that of naturalizing, when naturalization is of use, but not beyond those limits. Thus the materialization of the facts and the external or causal binding of them together are altogether justified as pure naturalism. And even the maxim which bids us to stop at 'proximate' causes—that is to say, not to force classification so far[Pg 75] that it loses all practical utility—will find its justification. To place the concept of the Divine Comedy in relation to that of 'Florentine civilization' may be of use, but it will be of no use whatever, or infinitely less use, to place it in relation to the class of 'Indo-European civilization' or to the 'civilization of the white man.'
IV

Let us then return with greater confidence to the point of departure, the true point of departure—that is to say, not to that of facts already disorganized and naturalized, but to that of the mind that thinks and constructs the fact. Let us raise up the debased countenances of the calumniated 'brute facts,' and we shall see the light of thought resplendent upon their foreheads. And that true point of departure will reveal itself not merely as a point of departure, but both as a point of arrival and of departure, not as the first step in historical construction, but the whole of history in its construction, which is also its self-construction. Historical determinism, and all the more 'philosophy of history,' leave the reality of history behind them, though they directed their journey thither, a journey which became so erratic and so full of useless repetitions.

We shall make the ingenuous Taine confess that what we are saying is the truth when we ask him what he means by the collection des faits and learn from him in reply that the collection in question consists of two stages or moments, in the first of which documents are revived in order to attain, à travers la distance des temps, l'homme vivant, agissant, doué de passions, muni d'habitudes, avec sa voix et sa physionomie, avec ses gestes[Pg 76] et ses habits, distinct et complet comme celui que tout à l'heure nous avons quitté dans la rue; and in the second is sought and found sous l'homme extérieur l'homme intérieur, "l'homme invisible," "le centre," "le groupe des facultés et des sentiments qui produit le reste," "le drame intérieur," "la psychologie." Something very different, then, from collections de faits I If the things mentioned by our author really do come to pass, if we really do make live again in imagination individuals and events, and if we think what is within them—that is to say, if we think the synthesis of intuition and concept, which is thought in its concreteness—history is already achieved: what more is wanted? There is nothing more to seek. Taine replies: "We must seek causes." That is to say, we must slay the living 'fact' thought by thought, separate its abstract elements—a useful thing, no doubt, but useful for memory and practice. Or, as is the custom of Taine, we must misunderstand and exaggerate the value of the function of this abstract analysis, to lose ourselves in the mythology of races and ages, or in other different but none the less similar things. Let us beware how we slay poor facts, if we wish to think as historians, and in so far as we are such and really think in that way we shall not feel the necessity for having recourse either to the extrinsic bond of causes, historical determinism, or to that which is equally extrinsic of transcendental ends, philosophy of history. The fact historically thought has no cause and no end outside itself, but only in itself, coincident with its real qualities and with its qualitative reality. Because (it is well to note in passing) the determination of facts as real facts indeed, but of unknown nature, asserted but not understood, is itself also an illusion of naturalism (which thus heralds its other illusion, that of the[Pg 77] 'philosophy of history'). In thought, reality and quality, existence and essence, are all one, and it is not possible to affirm a fact as real without at the same time knowing what fact it is—that is, without qualifying it.

Returning to and remaining in or moving in the concrete fact, or, rather, making of oneself thought that thinks the fact concretely, we experience the continual formation and the continual progress of our historical thought and also make clear to ourselves the history of historiography, which proceeds in the same manner. And we see how (I limit myself to this, in order not to allow the eye to wander too far) from the days of the Greeks to our own historical understanding has always been enriching and deepening itself, not because abstract causes and transcendental ends of human things have ever been recovered, but only because an ever increasing consciousness of them has been acquired. Politics and morality, religion and philosophy and art, science and culture and economy, have become more complex concepts and at the same time better determined and unified both in themselves and with respect to the whole. Correlatively with this, the histories of these forms of activity have become ever more complex and more firmly united. We know 'the causes' of civilization as little as did the Greeks; and we know as little as they of the god or gods who control the fortunes of humanity. But we know the theory of civilization better than did the Greeks, and, for instance, we know (as they did not know, or did not know with equal clearness and security) that poetry is an eternal form of the theoretic spirit, that regression or decadence is a relative concept, that the world is not divided into ideas and shadows of ideas, or into potencies and acts, that slavery is not a category of the[Pg 78] real, but a historical form of economic, and so forth. Thus it no longer occurs to anyone (save to the survivals or fossils, still to be found among us) to write the history of poetry on the principle of the pedagogic ends that the poets are supposed to have had in view: on the contrary, we strive to determine the forms expressive of their sentiments. We are not at all bewildered when we find ourselves before what are called 'decadences,' but we seek out what new and greater thing was being developed by means of their dialectic. We do not consider the work of man to be miserable and illusory, and aspiration and admiration for the skies and for the ascesis joined thereunto and averse to earth as alone worthy of admiration and imitation. We recognize the reality of power in the act, and in the shadows the solidity of the ideas, and on earth heaven. Finally, we do not find that the possibility of social life is lost owing to the disappearance of the system of slavery. Such a disappearance would have been the catastrophe of reality, if slaves were natural to reality—and so forth.

This conception of history and the consideration of historiographical work in itself make it possible for us to be just toward historical determinism and to the 'philosophy of history,' which, by their continual reappearance, have continually pointed to the gaps in our knowledge, both historical and philosophical, and with their false provisional solutions have heralded the correct solutions of the new problems which we have been propounding. Nor has it been said that they will henceforth cease to exercise such a function (which is the beneficial function of Utopias of every sort). And although historical determinism and the 'philosophy of history' have no history, because they do not develop, they yet receive a content from the relation in which[Pg 79] they stand to history, which does develop—that is to say, history develops in them, notwithstanding their covering, extrinsic to their content, which compels to think even him who proposes to schematize and to imagine without thinking. For there is a great difference between the determinism that can now appear, after Descartes and Vico and Kant and Hegel, and that which appeared after Aristotle; between the philosophy of history of Hegel and Marx and that of gnosticism and Christianity. Transcendency and false immanency are at work in both these conceptions respectively; but the abstract forms and mythologies that have appeared in more mature epochs of thought contain this new maturity in themselves. In proof of this, let us pause but a moment (passing by the various forms of naturalism) at the case of the 'philosophy of history.' We observe already a great difference between the philosophy of history, as it appears in the Homeric world, and that of Herodotus, with whom the conception of the anger of the gods is a simulacrum of the moral law, which spares the humble and treads the proud underfoot; from Herodotus to the Fate of the Stoics, a law to which the gods themselves are subjected, and from this to the conception of Providence, which appears in late antiquity as wisdom that rules the world; from this pagan providence again to Christianity, which is divine justice, evangelical preparation, and educative care of the human race, and so on, to the refined providence of the theologians, which as a rule excludes divine intervention and operates by means of secondary causes, to that of Vico, which operates as dialectic of the spirit, to the Idea of Hegel, which is the gradual conquest of the consciousness of self, which liberty achieves during the course of history, till we finally[Pg 80] reach the mythology of progress and of civilization, which still persists and is supposed to tend toward the final abolition of prejudices and superstitions, to be carried out by means of the increasing power and divulgation of positive science.

In this way the 'philosophy of history' and historical determinism sometimes attain to the thinness and transparency of a veil, which covers and at the same time reveals the concreteness of the real in thought. Mechanical causes thus appear idealized, transcendent deities humanized, and facts are in great part divested of their brutal aspect. But however thin the veil may be, it remains a veil, and however clear the truth may be, it is not altogether clear, for at bottom the false persuasion still persists that history is constructed with the 'material' of brute facts, with the 'cement' of causes, and with the 'magic' of ends, as with three successive or concurrent methods. The same thing occurs with religion, which in lofty minds liberates itself almost altogether from vulgar beliefs, as do its ethics from the heteronomy of the divine command and from the utilitarianism of rewards and punishments. Almost altogether, but not altogether, and for this reason religion will never be philosophy, save by negating itself, and thus the 'philosophy of history' and historical determinism will become history only by negating themselves. The reason is that as long as they proceed in a positive manner dualism will also persist, and with it the torment of scepticism and agnosticism as a consequence.

The negation of the philosophy of history, in history understood concretely, is its ideal dissolution, and since that so-called philosophy is nothing but an abstract and negative moment, our reason for affirming that[Pg 81] the philosophy of history is dead is clear. It is dead in its positivity, dead as a body of doctrine, dead in this way, with all the other conceptions and forms of the transcendental. I do not wish to attach to my brief (but in my opinion sufficient) treatment of the argument the addition of an explanation which to some will appear to be (as it appears to me) but little philosophical and even somewhat trivial. Notwithstanding, since I prefer the accusation of semi-triviality to that of equivocation, I shall add that since the criticism of the 'concepts' of cause and transcendental finality does not forbid the use of these 'words,' when they are simple words (to talk, for example, in an imaginative way of liberty as of a goddess, or to say, when about to undertake a study of Dante, that our intention is to 'seek the cause' or 'causes' of this or that work or act of his), so nothing forbids our continuing to talk of 'philosophy of history' and of philosophizing history, meaning the necessity of treating or of a better treatment of this or that historical problem. Neither does anything forbid our calling the researches of historical gnoseology 'philosophy of history,' although in this case we are treating the history, not properly of history, but of historiography, two things which are wont to be designated with the same word in Italian as in other languages. Neither do we wish to prevent the statement (as did a German professor years ago) that the 'philosophy of history' must be treated as 'sociology'—that is to say, the adornment with that ancient title of so-called sociology, the empirical science of the state, of society and of culture.

These denominations are all permissible in virtue of the same right as that invoked by the adventurer Casanova when he went before the magistrates in[Pg 82] order to justify himself for having changed his name—"the right of every man to the letters of the alphabet." But the question treated above is not one of the letters of the alphabet. The 'philosophy of history,' of which we have briefly shown the genesis and the dissolution, is not one that is used in various senses, but a most definite mode of conceiving history—the transcendental mode.
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